The U.S. is demanding that Chinese-owned TikTok be sold or the popular video app could be banned in the country due to security concerns, according to several news agencies.
The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio (NPR) and others reported Wednesday evening that the demand to sell the app was delivered to TikTok in recent weeks.
The Times said the move is a “significant shift in the Biden administration’s position toward TikTok, which has been under scrutiny over fears that Beijing could request Americans’ data from the app.” The White House had been trying to negotiate an agreement with TikTok that would apply new safeguards to its data and eliminate a need for ByteDance to sell its shares in the app, the Time said.
TikTok said it was weighing its options and was disappointed by the decision. The company said its security proposal, which involves storing Americans’ data in the United States, offered the best protection for users.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” Maureen Shanahan, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said in a statement.
The news reports come as TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
In response to lengthy criticism, TikTok has promised to spend US$1.5 billion on a plan known as “Project Texas,” which would enact a stronger firewall between TikTok and employees of its Beijing parent company, ByteDance.
According to NPR, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), a federal agency, appeared at first to be satisfied with TikTok’s proposal, although it hadn’t been formally approved. Now, NPR says, CFIUS has rejected TikTok’s proposal and is demanding that ByteDance sell the app.
In recent weeks, a number of jurisdictions have forbidden their employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. These include the government of Canada and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.
Despite the worries of governments that TikTok collects too much personal data of users and of the fealty China demands of domestic companies, the video app has an estimated 100 million users in the U.S. alone. Its popularity can perhaps be measured by one host of Sunday’s Academy Awards pre-show who asked several stars about their presence on TikTok.
The Times noted that the White House last week backed a bipartisan Senate bill that would give it more power to deal with TikTok, including by banning the app. If it passed, the legislation would give the Biden administration more leverage in its negotiations with the app, and potentially allow it to force a sale.
But, the Times added, any effort to ban the app or force its sale could face a legal challenge. Federal courts ultimately ruled against President Donald Trump’s attempt to block the app from appearing in Apple’s and Google’s app stores. And the American Civil Liberties Union recently condemned legislation to ban the app, saying it raises concerns under the First Amendment.